Road-test: Operating capability under actual conditions; a test of something in actual use. In the most literal sense, a road test is performed anytime something or someone is placed in a real circumstance in order to measure or evaluate their performance. I think much of life is like this - we are in real circumstances, requiring us to "perform" a certain way. Yet, many might not actually be able to endure the "reality" of the road test. In other words, sometimes our faith is "shelf-worthy", but take it out of the "box" and we don't perform that well!
Bless our God, O peoples! Give him a thunderous welcome! Didn’t he set us on the road to life? Didn’t he keep us out of the ditch? He trained us first, passed us like silver through refining fires, brought us into hardscrabble country, pushed us to our very limit, road-tested us inside and out, took us to hell and back; finally he brought us to this well-watered place. (Psalm 66:8-12 MSG)
I know this passage refers to the people of Israel, but I think it speaks much to our life today, as well. All scripture is given for our learning - so what can we learn from what our writer said about God's work in the lives of Israel? First and foremost, there are a whole lot of "action" words in this passage: God set on, kept, trained, passed through, brought into, pushed, road-tested, took, and brought. Lots of action - not ours - but God's! I think we can learn much about how God prepares his people for his purposes - just by looking at these "actions".
* He sets us into motion. Isn't this what it means to be "set on the road to life"? There is a placing of us right where we need to be headed - not on the road of our own choosing, but on the road he has designed for us - the road to life.
* He keeps us from unrecognized hazards. A ditch on the side of the road does not appear like much of a hazard as long as we are whizzing by it. Yet, if we veer into it, the reality of the hazard is suddenly directly impacting our lives. A ditch has a purpose - it is a waterway, allowing drainage "away from" the road. It is not intended for our passage - it is intended to keep our passage ON the road safer. Without the ditch, there might be unrecognized hazards on the road - such as slickness caused by the rains of life. So, the ditch has a unique purpose - but it is not where we belong.
* He trains us, not after the fact, but before he sets us in motion. Isn't this the purpose of driver's education classes - to get the student ready for the real experience of the road? I think God goes about "training" us before he sets us in motion because God knows once we get "going", we really don't know how to stop ourselves! The advantages to upfront training are twofold - you get familiar with the course you will travel, and you have a better knowledge of the hazards/warning signs along the way.
* He tests us, not to break us, but to prove us. Most of the time, I think we struggle with this idea of testing. We see it as unnecessary, but I'd rather possess a beautiful gold ring than a piece of ore which contains flecks of gold! The difference is the "serviceability" of the "proven" gold. The one passed through the refiner's fire is able to be fashioned into a thing of beauty - the ore might have "promise", but it really cannot change its "form" until it passes through the fire!
* He brings us into places we definitely would not choose on our own. Hardscrabble places are those which place demands beyond what it appears we can handle. I think God brings us into these places to reveal to us the joy of depending on someone other than ourselves!
* He pushes us beyond what we see as our limits simply because he sees the potential of his grace within us. No amount of "babying" will ever help us to grow up - it will just keep us self-centered. God's purpose in pushing us is never to "do us in", but to bring us in. He wants us closer to him - so he brings us to the limits of our own ability in order to show us the majesty of his.
* He ensures we are able to handle the real stuff of life. Isn't this the purpose of the road-test? Faith isn't faith until it is tested in the face of doubt. Hope is nothing more than a dream unless it comes face to face with the very thing which presents the opposition to the hope. God's purpose in the "road-test" is to make sure what is displayed on the outside is really at work on the inside, as well. It is more than religious display - it is reality of character.
* He takes us into some uncomfortable places in order to disturb our comfort a little. We can get too comfortable at times - just drifting along. Comfort is the enemy of almost anything good in our lives. Get too comfortable on the couch and you will soon realize your muscles have turned to mush. Get too comfortable in a relationship, taking each other for granted, and you will find you soon drift apart. We need a little discomfort sometimes in order to push us to the next level.
* He brings us to the place where he intends for us to be. The well-watered place is not discovered by accident - it is a destination marked out by the careful planning of a gracious God.
So, maybe we are being "road-tested" a little today. If so, listen carefully to the "instructor", pay close attention to the "hazards" he points out, and don't miss the moments he provides which will "prove" what's on the inside. His careful leading will prepare us better for the journey than any amount of self-help we could muster. Just sayin!